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West End News

Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.


What's On:
Cook County Schools

West End News: October 22

We were thrilled to have a visit from the Superior National Forest leadership team this week. The team is about 30 Forest Service employees who hold the higher administrative jobs at the Forest Service headquarters in Duluth and in the District Offices around the Forest. They were taking a full day to tour various parts of the Tofte District, which includes most of the West End.
The Forest Service plays a large role in our lives here in the West End, as they administer the vast majority of our land base. Their multiple-use mandate provides business opportunities in timber and recreation of all types. They are also important employers in their own right. As if that isn’t enough, they provide a lot of the recreation opportunities that we all enjoy, including trails of all types, fishing docks, campgrounds and hunting land, just to name a few.
The individuals on the leadership team are out and about in the forest on a daily basis, but it’s also valuable for the whole team to get out together, so they can discuss and ponder future policy decisions while looking at the actual effects of their past decisions.
It’s easy to make fun of any big organization like the Forest Service, but the reality is that they do a great job administering the public lands that provide for the lifestyle that makes us all want to live here.  In my long experience with the Forest Service, I’ve invariably been impressed with the intelligence and dedication of the employees. They do a lot for us and we shouldn’t take them for granted.
The Bloodmobile is returning to Tofte on Monday, November 16, from 2:30 until 6 pm.  It parks at Zoar Lutheran Church with registration taking place just inside the church. Long-time blood drive volunteer, Julie Rannetsberger, is organizing things this time around, so give her a call at 663-7111 to schedule a time to donate.
I almost never miss an opportunity to donate blood, but I’ll have to pass this time because I’ll be on vacation in Hawaii. Someone is welcome to take my place though – at the blood drive, not in Hawaii!
I usually don’t report local births, because if I do one, then I have to do them all. But I’m making an exception for the birth of Freja Tofte Hedstrom last week. Freya is, I’m told, the first child born of a union between the Toftes and the Hedstroms, two of the  largest and most prominent pioneer families in Cook County. Congratulations to the parents, Abby Tofte and Sam Hedstrom, as well as the grandparents, Brian and Kelly Tofte, and Ed and Kris Hedstrom.
The election ballots are out for the operating levy referendum for the Cook County Schools, also known as Independent School District Number 166. 
In my opinion, the correct vote on this issue is “yes.” Without this authorization, our largest school district will be crippled in its efforts to educate our children.  
Education is the key to almost everything in a civil society. I could provide examples all day, but the bottom line is that our tax dollars spent on public education provide a return on investment that would be the envy of any Wall Street hedge fund.  Failure is not an option here. We can pay a little now or pay a lot later.
Aside from the financial sound financial reasons for voting yes, it is also just the right thing to do. What kind of community would we be if we didn’t invest in the well-being of our children? 
Thanks in advance for doing your part to keep the West End a wonderful place to grow up and a great place to raise a family.



West End News: October 15

As I write this, there is only one car in the parking lot here at Sawbill.  The busiest canoeing season in recent years is finally coming to a close.  The North Shore resorts are still hopping, but the fall colors are now past their peak and the quiet season is just around the corner.
For the year-around resorts and businesses, the deep valleys in income that occur in November and April are a real problem.  They go from being desperately short of staff - to wildly overstaffed - for a good month before the winter tourism season kicks in.  Layoffs are hard on everyone, but if the staff is kept on, it has the practical effect of suppressing wages, as the slow season must be averaged with the busy season.
The solution, of course, is to give visitors a reason to come to Cook County during the slow months.  One of the best examples of that strategy is the upcoming Bluegrass Masters Weekend at Lutsen Resort.
Celebrating its 25th year this year, the event is a unique partnership between Lutsen Resort and the nonprofit North Shore Music Association.  This year it is happening on November 6, 7 and 8. 
This time around, the visiting bluegrass master is Mike Witcher, who plays the resophonic guitar, which is commonly known as the Dobro.  It is an acoustic version of the steel guitar, with the strings being picked with the right hand while the notes are formed with a steel bar held in the left hand.
An in-demand session player in L.A. and Nashville, Mike Witcher has worked with such artists as Dwight Yoakam, Dolly Parton, Bette Midler, Peter Rowan, Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. He has played the Grand Ole Opry and Prairie Home Companion many times, and you can hear him on hundreds of records, sound tracks, commercials, and TV shows.
Mike is bringing an all-star bluegrass band with him.  The master players will be giving workshops all day on Saturday.  You can register for the workshops on the spot Saturday morning.  The band will present a concert on Saturday night in the Lutsen Resort Ballroom.
The coolest part of the event are the jam sessions that are almost continuous in every nook and cranny of the resort.  Most of the visitors who attend are musicians themselves and they play from early in the morning until early the next morning throughout the weekend.  If you like bluegrass music, I highly recommend that you stop by Lutsen Resort some time during the weekend to walk around and listen to the spontaneous music.  The high level of musicianship will surprise you and I guarantee that you will have a good time!
Here are a couple of quick reminders for events at Birch Grove School and Community Center in Tofte:  The annual Halloween Carnival will be on Sunday, October 25, from 2 until 4 p.m.  It is a wahoo good time for all, especially the under 15 set.
Mark your calendar for the Community Lunch at Birch Grove on the second Tuesday of every month.  No need to call ahead – you can just show up at 11:30 and enjoy lunch with your friends and neighbors, prepared by chefs Julie Aldinger and Barb Merritt.  There is a reasonable charge in exchange for a delicious meal and some great conversation.
You may recall the Norwegian murder mystery trilogy best known as “The Land of Dreams” series. The three books won a prestigious Scandinavian writing award and were translated into English a few years ago by the University of Minnesota Press.  The books included many real places and people from the West End, including yours truly.
Now, according to the Minnesota Film Board, a deal has been made to produce the books as a television show titled “Minnesota.”  I am a very minor character in the book, but if my character is included in the TV show, I may get the real world answer to that old hypothetical question of which actor would portray me on TV?
I’m actually hoping that Sawbill and I will both get cut from the screenplay.  The last thing I want is indirect television fame, especially because my fictional alter ego isn’t a very nice person.  Sawbill Canoe Outfitters is portrayed in the book as being fantastically successful – practically an excuse to print money.  While this is flattering, any small business owner will tell you that it is far from reality.
It sounds like the whole project is a long way from a done deal.  In the unlikely event that the show is produced and is actually watched by a significant number of people, it will just be part of the interesting life that we all get to lead, here in the West End of Cook County.


This is what the campaign trail looks like in the beautiful Legislative District 3A

West End News: October 8

It’s good to be back writing the West End News for the best radio station in the world, WTIP.  I took some time off from this job while I made an unsuccessful bid to become the legislative representative for the beautiful and massive District 3A.
Contrary to popular belief, being a candidate for public office is a lot of fun.  Your job is to get yourself out in the community to listen to the hopes, fears, concerns and dreams of as many people as possible.  It turns out that this is a very affirming and interesting job.  Everyone I talked to was friendly, well informed, and often funny.  Even the people who would said they would never vote for me invariably had a smile and a word of encouragement.
The most affirming though, are the volunteers and supporters who commit wholeheartedly to a common vision for the future of the state.  I can assure you that there are many, many of our friends and neighbors willing to work hard for prosperity, justice and the common good.
I was disappointed to lose the election.  But, beyond my own bruised ego, I was more disappointed for the hundreds of dedicated volunteers, supporters, donors and thousands of voters who put their trust and faith in me.  On the other hand, I know that I worked as hard as I could and, at the end of the day, that’s all a person can do.
As a side benefit, the campaign came at a perfect time to enjoy the fall colors as I drove from Grand Portage to International Falls and back several times.  I saw a ton of wildlife, including half a dozen bull moose, several wolves, including a curious a adolescent, several lynx, the same set of bear cub twins four times, a fisher and too many deer, eagles, fox, hawks, owls and migrating warblers to count. Northern Minnesota is a great place to live!
All the resorts, restaurants and stores along the North Shore have been swamped this fall as the beautiful weather has extended the popular fall color season to the latest date in modern history.  The extended season, combined with the annual gap between shifts of foreign student workers, has created a serious employee shortage all up and down the shore.  Owners and management are bussing tables and cleaning rooms, while the wage workers who are still on the job forgo days off and work a lot of overtime.  It’s a classy problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.  It should ease up in a couple of weeks when the leaves drop and the next crop of seasonal workers arrive and get settled in.
I am pleased to report that the wonderful Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland has two advocates trained to provide services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, including legal advocacy or assistance if you are in crisis. Those in need are welcome to walk in during the Center's regular office hours from 10am - 4pm on Tuesdays and Fridays and ask for Honor or Joni.
Brulé, with its spectacular Native American stage production of “SIGHT, SOUND & SOUL,” is performing Saturday, October 24, at 7:00 pm at the William Kelley High School Auditorium in Silver Bay.
Hailing from South Dakota, Brulé thrills audiences with a fusion of cultural rock, traditional sound, and theatrical dance with insights to share about our connections to others, to the land, and to the living things around us. Brulé’s electrifying show includes a five-piece rock ensemble with traditional Native American instrumentation and dancers.
The Northern Lake County Arts Board sponsors Brule’s concert, with financial support from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, Cultural Arts and Heritage Fund and the Silver Bay Tourism Association. For information and ticket reservations, just search the Internet for the Northern Lake County Arts Board, or contact WTIP.
When and if you do get a minute of free time, be sure to enjoy the spectacular foliage, or the brilliant northern lights, or the wonderful meteor shower in progress this week.  There is never a shortage of world-class quality experiences here in the beautiful West End.


Firefighter at work on the current fires in Alaska.

West End News: August 6

Many local Forest Service employees and retired employees are being dispatched to the large wild fires in the western states and Alaska.
Tim Norman, from Tofte, who is a retired fire behavior specialist with the U.S. Forest Service just returned from a month in Alaska.  He was stationed on a huge fire along the Yukon River about 50 miles from Fairbanks. 
Tim was the operations manager on a fire that was half a million acres in size. To put that in perspective, that would be half the BWCA Wilderness burning in one large fire.  The operations manager is arguably the toughest job on any fire, requiring vast experience, years of training, solid judgment and the ability to make decisions that carry life and death consequences.  It is a lot like being a battlefield commander, but hopefully without any loss of life.
At one point, the smoke from the fire was so intense that aircraft couldn’t supply the fire camps located hundreds of miles from the nearest road.  The local people broke out their salmon nets and gathered berries to keep the hungry firefighters going until the supply flights could resume.
Tim slept for nearly three days straight when he got home.  The heavy responsibility and rough working conditions in Alaska kept him up all hours and provided for plenty of stress.
Tim was very impressed the hospitality and skills of the native Alaskan Athabaskan people that he worked with there.  He commented that the fun part of being a wildland fire fighter is getting to know all the different cultures in this great and diverse country that we call the United States.
The Birch Grove Foundation is celebrating its 30th year of existence this year with a “Back to the Future” party on Saturday, August 15. The festivities kick off at 3 pm and include a Birch Grove retrospective, tours, dinner, a presentation and a movie on the new large format theater style movie screen.
Caroline Wood, the Birch Grove Foundation Director, is calling 2015 “a year to remember.”  Not only is it the 30th anniversary of the beloved community center, but it has been, by far, the most successful year of fundraising in the Foundation’s history.  More than $70,000 in grants have been received this year in addition to the income that the Foundation collects through its various activities.
The Birch Grove Community Center mostly serves the townships of Lutsen, Schroeder and Tofte.  If you haven’t stopped by recently, I strongly urge you to stop in for a tour on the 15th.  It has become a truly remarkable and lovely gathering spot for the entire West End.

Cook County School District 166 is holding another operating levy referendum during the normal general election this November.  The previous operating levy referendum expires in December.
I plan to vote yes for the referendum and strongly urge everyone to join me in voting yes.  Our schools are the single most important key to the future prosperity of Cook County.  It isn’t the only key, but it is the most important key.  Without top notch public education, everything else becomes much, much more difficult.
In my opinion, the system of holding referendum elections every few years for regular school funding is not good public policy.  It was an idea that was popular 20 years ago, but has proven to be a wasteful, time consuming and unnecessary process.  There are far better ways to hold schools accountable for their spending while making sure that we spend enough to make Minnesota’s public education system fair and equal and right up there with the best in the world.  It’s an investment that will pay rich rewards.  I urge the state legislature to revisit school funding soon and design a system that is efficient, fair and effective.
The blueberries and raspberries are reaching their peak ripeness this week.  In the West End, it seems to be a so-so year for blueberries, but the raspberries are abundant, if on the small side. 
I’ve heard stories of very abundant blueberries at the end of the Gunflint Trail and in the Pagami Creek burn near lake Isabella.  As a bonus this year, the biting insects are nearly nonexistent.  Now is the time to head for the berry patch and gather a little taste of the sweetness that is our beloved West End.


Locomotives on the rail line between Taconite Harbor and Hoyt Lakes

West End News: July 30

The closing of Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor power plant continues to be on the minds of West End residents.  It takes time to absorb such a large blow to the community.
I was intrigued by Cook County News Herald editor Rhonda Silence’s suggestion that the railroad between Schroeder and Hoyt Lakes be reactivated as a scenic railroad.  I’ve hiked quite a few sections of that rail line and it is beautiful.  The tunnel is particularly spectacular, not just for its capacity to scare the young Rhonda Silence, but for breathtaking views from both ends. 
The kind of thinking that Rhonda is doing is exactly what we need to turn the end of the power plant era into a new era of prosperity for Schroeder and Taconite Harbor.  It seems to me that any place where a rail line meets a Great Lakes shipping line is bound to be useful to someone.
The 15th annual Gitch-Gami Trail Association North Shore Bike Ride is coming up on Saturday, August 15.  The ride takes place on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail along with some connecting roads and offers a 28-mile, 37-mile, and 55-mile option.  The ride starts and ends at Gooseberry State Park.  Riders should gather there around 9:00 am in order to start riding before 10:30.  You must wear a helmet and be willing to sign a liability waiver.  There is a small charge for participation.
The North Shore Bike Ride was the brainchild of the late Congressman Jim Oberstar.  He wanted the event to call attention to the trail each year, especially to highlight the additions to the trail year by year.
Jim Oberstar was, among many other accomplishments, the leading advocate for bicycling in the U.S. Congress.  It was his vision that will result, when complete, in an 88-mile bike trail along the shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Grand Marais.  Twenty-nine miles are complete now with some significant new sections coming soon.
The Birch Grove Community Center would like to introduce you to Pickleball, if you aren’t already acquainted.  Pickleball is a fun game that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.  It can be played indoors or out with a paddle and a plastic ball.  It is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all abilities.
Birch Grove has Pickleball every Thursday and Saturday at 10:00 am.  They are especially encouraging new players at this time and will make sure that you are comfortable and have fun.  Call Elizabeth at 663-7977 to give her a heads-up if you plan to attend.
The folks at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland are organizing an invasive weed pull on August 6 at 5:00 pm.  That is the same night and time as the popular farmer’s market, so you can stock up on fresh goodies and perform some community service at the same time.  The Lake County Invasive Species Team will be on hand to provide instruction on identification and techniques for removing invasive weeds.  Bring your gloves.
Congratulations to a couple of couples from Lutsen who tied the knot last weekend.  Josh Schmidt married Kim Coffman and Steve Bragg was wedded to Teresa Hansen.  Both ceremonies were loaded with locals and family from afar, all of whom enjoyed the most perfect North Shore Saturday of the decade.  It’s good to feel the love in the air in the beautiful West End.



West End News: July 23

It was a week of disaster and near disaster in Tofte. 
Firmly in the disaster category, the Life Flight had to be summoned to Tofte and all our hearts go out to the Martinez family in their time of sorrow.
In the near disaster category, Rita Wehseler rolled her pickup on to its top on Highway 61 right in front of the rescue squad garage.  She had to take the ditch to avoid a vehicle pulling out of Bluefin and it was steep enough to flip her over.  Fortunately, she was wearing her seatbelt and escaped with minor injuries.  As we all know, Rita is pretty tough.  Once you've been dragged for a few miles by a dog team at 45 below zero, your perspective changes a bit.
Nevertheless, we're all grateful that she wasn't seriously hurt and it's a good reminder to all of us to respect the danger of the highway during this busy, busy season.
Finally, in the category of serious, but kind of funny now, the ice truck caught fire and burned up in Tofte last week.  The story around town is that it broke down and then caught fire spontaneously.  No one was hurt, but the ice was a total loss.
Dave and Amy Freeman call Lutsen home, but they actually live most of their lives in a tent, in their capacity as wilderness guides and the principals of Wilderness Classroom, the non-profit organization that connects school children with wilderness via technology.  One or both have paddled the length of the Amazon River, the Mississippi River, The River of Doubt in Brazil, paddled, hiked and dog-sledded halfway around North America, and paddled from Grand Marais to Washington D.C., just to name a few of their adventures.
Now, they are fulfilling a long-time goal by camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a full year, without coming out.  From September 23, 2015, until September 22, 2016, they will travel the length and breadth of the BWCA Wilderness, but will not leave even for a single moment, unless they have an emergency.
They are calling it their "Year in the Wilderness" and are hoping to use the feat to call attention to the environmental threat posed by international mining interests that are hoping to mine sulfide-bearing rock within both the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior watersheds.
The Freemans are encouraging people to join them for short periods during the year, which is also how they plan to be re-supplied with food.  They plan to travel over 3,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team.  They will stay at more than 120 campsites.
You can find out more about their trip - and sign up to travel with them for a while - by googling "Campaign To Save the Wilderness."
Right now in the wilderness and in secret locations outside the wilderness, blueberries are starting to ripen.  Although far from the peak, ripe berries are being picked, especially on the south facing slopes.  It looks like it will be a mediocre berry crop this year, especially after we were all spoiled by last season's record harvest.
Between the half decent berry crop and a bumper crop of hazelnuts, the bears should be infrequent visitors to campsites, cabins and back yards this season.  Although there is always the possibility of bears capitalizing on easy access to human food, the availability of ample natural foods will keep most of the bruins deep in the woods, where they belong.


Bode, the formerly lost dog

West End News: July 16

It is not much of a surprise, but upsetting nonetheless, to hear Minnesota Power announce the permanent closing of their coal-fired power plant in Schroeder.  To their credit, the utility has been preparing the community for this announcement for several years. 
There will be a lot of talk about who is at fault for the closing, but the bottom line is that the power plant has been left behind by the modern world, just like any other outdated technology.
However, the pain felt by the community and the people who work at the plant is real and immediate.  Some of the employees will retire. Some will take Minnesota Power up on their offer to relocate to another facility.  But a significant number, who have deep roots and other commitments in Cook and Lake Counties, will be forced to change careers – which is a difficult task in this part of the world.
On the positive side, Minnesota Power plans to keep the plant in reserve for another few years, which will require some people to keep up with routine maintenance and security. The decommissioning and deconstruction of the huge industrial site will provide some jobs for quite a few years after that. 
With its access to rail service, the power grid and a deep-water port, hopefully a new line of business can be developed at Taconite Harbor that will provide significant jobs into the future.
It strikes me as a perfect location for a large solar power facility, perhaps paired with a large greenhouse/fish farm operation.  In any case, we’ll have to put on our thinking caps and make the best of a bad situation.
Several other news items caught my eye this week. 
The first is a document put together by the nonprofit group Water Legacy.  They prepared it as a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  The nearly 500 pages of official documents form a devastating indictment of how the mining industry in Minnesota has managed to avoid meeting even the most basic water quality standards over the last twenty or more years.
Water Legacy’s investigation makes it clear that the mining industry has used its considerable political clout to essentially make up its own rules, resulting in significant damage to public rivers and lakes.
The second news item that caught my eye is a report that lobbyists spent almost 70 million dollars this year to influence the Minnesota Legislature.  That is more than $320,000 per legislator in a single year. 
The third news item was the release of a timetable for the Polymet Corporation to begin a huge new mining operation near Hoyt Lakes in the Lake Superior watershed.  The Polymet executives have repeatedly said that they plan to fully comply with Minnesota’s water quality regulations.
I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about how these news items might, or might not, be related.
Bode, the dog from Minneapolis who has been on the loose around Sawbill for the last few weeks, has finally been captured and returned to his owners. 
Bode became spooked during a thunderstorm near Burnt Lake in the BWCA Wilderness and ran off from his owners, who had only recently adopted him from a dog rescue organization.  He was spotted every few days since then, but was too skittish to be captured.
He finally walked into a campsite at the Nine Mile Lake Campground, more than 25 miles from Burnt Lake.  A woman in the campsite grabbed his collar, thinking he belonged to another party in the campground.  Bode’s dog tags led them to the true owner and the saga of Bode concludes with a happy ending.  Bode’s owners have asked me to thank everyone who helped them over the last few weeks and expressed their gratitude for all the support and concern they received from the good people of the West End.


Cobblestone structures in Tofte Park

West End News: July 9

I was surprised and honored to be named Citizen of the Year at this year’s 4th of July celebration in Tofte.  As I said in my acceptance speech, off the top of my head I can think of 20 people that deserve the honor more than I do.  I am pleased to receive the same award that my mother, Mary Alice Hansen, won couple of years ago.  It seems like whenever I do something that either of my parents did previously, I’m on the right track.
During the plaque ceremony, Tofte Township Supervisor, Jim King, mentioned that the Citizen of the Year Award was created seven years ago to honor Tofte resident and volunteer, Bob Boomgard.  I was saddened to hear Jim say that Bob had passed away recently.
Bob Boomgard retired to Tofte many years ago and quickly became one of the most active volunteers that one can imagine.  He did many things, but his first love was the beautiful Tofte Park. 
Tofte Park is one of the North Shore’s hidden gems – a beautiful swath of Lake Superior shoreline that was bypassed by the modern reconstruction of Highway 61.  Originally donated to the township by Elizabeth Tofte in 1922, the park featured a quaint spillway, wishing well and walking bridge, all built out of red, white and blue cobblestones.
By the early 1990s, the cobblestone structures were in considerable disrepair.  Bob, along with his wife, Delora, painstakingly recovered all the fallen cobblestones and restored the lovely structures to their original glory.  We all enjoy his work every time we stroll through the park and the township has been inspired to make a number of improvements to the park over recent years.  It is now a popular spot for weddings and picnics – not to mention the famous 4th of July celebration.
Bob Boomgard will be greatly missed in Tofte, not only for his hard work, but his invariably cheerful and upbeat personality.
It is good to see that the 600 Road bridge across the Temperance River in Tofte is finally funded for replacement.  The old iron bridge, whose paint had faded to a charming pink color over the years, has been closed for almost a year, effectively cutting off reasonable access to the 600 Road.  The 600 Road is not only important to local loggers, but is a popular tourism destination, especially in the fall when its abundant maples put on a spectacular show.
In a very enlightened move, the Forest Service has designed an aesthetically pleasing wooden bridge that will blend with the beauty of the river - and will be constructed by a local contractor.
It remains a mystery as to why the replacement wasn’t done before the inconvenience of having the road closed for a year, but I guess it is a case of better late than never.
Here is a quick list of “not to be missed” West End events that are coming up in the next month:
The Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte on Tuesday, July 21, from 2 until 6 pm.  Call Polly Erickson at 663-7398 if you would like to donate a pint of blood.
On Saturday, July 18, Barb Livdahl will be speaking about the current exhibit called “Lost Resorts” at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.   She’ll be sharing what she learned while researching all the resorts that existed in the West End from the 1920s through today.
Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder has a fun plan for their annual meeting this year.  They will be celebrating aboard the tour ship Voyageur on Saturday, August 8, embarking from the Silver Bay Marina at 5:30 pm.   If seeing Sugarloaf from the big lake isn’t enough, their will be hors d’oeuvres, wine and live music from the THUGS, which stands for Two Harbors Ukelele Group.
We’ve been chasing a lost dog around the woods here at Sawbill for the last two weeks.  The husky mix named Bode, ran off from his owners during a thunderstorm in the BWCA Wilderness just north of Sawbill.  Bode is a recent rescue by his family so he hadn’t bonded completely with them yet.
He is spotted around the area almost every day and will readily eat food that is left out for him, but won’t let anyone get close enough to capture him.  The owners are coming back up from their home in the Twin Cities today with a large live trap that we’re all hoping will do the trick. 
Stay tuned, for what we’re all hoping will be the happy conclusion to the saga of Bode next week.


Dee and Steve Hedman of Duluth

West End News: July 2

Polly Erickson, the West End’s favorite blood collector, is once again asking for volunteer donations when the bloodmobile is in town on Tuesday, July 21.
Donating blood is a very important community service, saving and improving the lives of our loved ones, friends and neighbors. It is also a lot of fun to visit with the staff and the other donors in the bloodmobile.
One of the less pleasant, but necessary, parts of the blood giving experience is the lengthy interview that determines if you are eligible to be a donor. Now days, you can go to the Memorial Blood Center website and complete the questionnaire online. It speeds things up on donation day, both for you and for the staff.
The large, colorful, converted RV will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte from 2 pm until 6 pm on Tuesday, July 21. Call Polly at 663-7398 to make an appointment.
North Shore Area Partners, the excellent program based in Silver Bay that provides in-home services for seniors and disabled folks in eastern Lake County, is holding a public event during the Bay Days Celebration next week. They’ll be at Reunion Hall from 9 am until 4 pm on Saturday, July 11. Stop by, learn about the program, buy some food, make a silent auction bid - and please thank the many volunteers for their valuable community service.
Camp Menogyn, the famous YMCA camp on West Bearskin Lake on the Gunflint Trail, is offering some open spots in their canoeing, backpacking and rock climbing trips to local kids at a reduced price. The trips start next week, so you need to act fast if you want to take advantage of this huge opportunity.
If you are entering grade 7 through 12, get in touch with Fred at the camp right away. A Camp Menogyn experience can literally change your life. Menogyn is Ojibway for “together” and is spelled m-e-n-o-g-y-n.  If you can’t find it online, call WTIP for contact information.
Steve Gendron, from Minneapolis, has been volunteering to count loons on a selection of West End lakes for more than 20 years. He reports his careful counting to the DNR where they are combined with the efforts of hundreds of other volunteers to track the loon population in Minnesota over the long term.
This year, Steve brought along his new dog, Bode, along on the trip. Bode is a husky mix and came to Steve through a rescue organization just a couple of weeks ago. On Monday, as he was crossing the portage between Smoke and Burnt Lakes in the BWCA Wilderness, Bode was spooked by some thunder and ran off into the woods. Despite two days of searching, Steve and his family could not find him.
On Wednesday, the Gendrons had to return to Minneapolis with heavy hearts. Signs and pictures at the Sawbill entry point are alerting people traveling in that direction to keep their eyes peeled, and by Wednesday evening we had several reports of Bode sightings.
We would be more despairing for Bode’s fate if it weren’t for an almost identical situation two summers ago. That dog, also spooked by a storm, was missing for more than two weeks before it showed up at a campsite and was enticed into captivity with an offer of food. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for the same outcome for Bode.
Back in 1958, my parents hired a lovely high school girl from Duluth named Dee Sampson. That same summer Sawbill Lodge, our next-door neighbor, hired an awkward boy of the same age named Steve Hedman. I was only five years old, but I distinctly remember that whenever he wasn’t working, Steve would come over and stand in the corner of our store and look miserable. I tried to talk to him, but he could barely string a sentence together in his painful shyness.
As the summers rolled by, Dee continued to work for us and became a treasured family friend. Steve continued to hang around and act weird, but slowly worked up his nerve and started talking to Dee.
One day, I rounded a corner unexpectedly and caught Steve and Dee kissing. I was shocked by this wild behavior, but apparently I was the last to know that the two had grown quite sweet on each other.
In 1966 they were married and, of course, took a BWCA Wilderness canoe trip for their honeymoon. We decorated their canoe with “Just Married” signs and tied tin cans to the stern.
On July 2, Steve and Dee celebrate their 49th anniversary. They have three children and more grandchildren than I can keep track of. They are visiting Sawbill to relive the wonderful memories that they created so long ago.
By the way, Steve overcame his shyness, got a degree in genetics, and had an illustrious career as a professor at UMD. Dee is well loved in Duluth for a lifetime of community involvement and acts of kindness.
While other people looking at them may see an older couple when they look at Steve and Dee, after all these years, I still see the awkward boy and beautiful girl slowly falling in love.


Finland Farmers Market (courtesy of the Clair Nelson Intermodal Transportation Center)

West End News: June 25

I had two stark reminders of my own mortality this week. 
The first was the onset of a mundane summer cold that, if it didn’t make me feel like I was dying, it made me feel like I wanted to die, for about three days.
The second was an invitation to contribute an oral history to the Schroeder Area Historical Society.  Their main exhibit this summer is “Lost Resorts” presenting the history of the many resorts that flourished during the 20th century and were gone by the start of the 21st.
I was surprised that they wanted an oral history from a young person like me, until I thought about it for a minute. When I discuss oral history with friends it usually includes some talk about “getting the history before it’s gone.” Hopefully, this is just the first of several oral histories I can contribute before I’m gone.
Brian Tofte, local historian extraordinaire, sent me an oral history that my dad, Frank Hansen, gave to historian Bill Raff back in the ‘90s.  It was transcribed from a recording, so it was fun to hear my dad’s voice in my head as I read through it. It was taped at Bill’s cabin on the Gunflint Trail and I could tell from the conversation that it was a relaxed and congenial atmosphere. Both men are gone now, so I don’t feel bad about revealing that the interview grew noticeably livelier and more colorful as it went on, most likely reflecting the number of martinis that were consumed.
My interview with the Schroeder Area Historical Society is scheduled for 2:30 pm at the museum, so I seriously doubt that martinis will be involved.
Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder is offering unique opportunities to explore the West End with a master naturalist every week throughout the summer.
If you want to participate, meet at the Sugarloaf parking lot at 1 pm on any Friday between now and August 21st. Wear sturdy shoes, a hat and bring a little bug dope. July 3rd’s topic will be boreal forest ecology and on July 10th the maple hardwood forest will be explored. You can email for more information.
The first Farmers Market of the season at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland was this week and was a smashing success. For many people in the West End, this is the closest Farmers Market available. It is every Thursday evening from 5 to 7 pm from now until the end of September. The Clair Nelson Center is on the Cramer Road just east of downtown Finland.
Also at the Finland Community Center on Thursdays is LOTS, which stands for Learning Opportunities Through Stories. Bring your toddlers in between 3 and 4:30 pm for a great story time – and then stay for the Farmers Market.
Somewhere I read an interview with Bob Dylan where he mentioned his memories of attending story time at the old Carnegie Library in Duluth when he was a toddler. I have many fond memories of story time at that same library, but I’m too young to have sat next to Bob Dylan. Taking your toddler to hear good stories doesn’t guarantee that they will become a world-renowned poet like Bob Dylan, but it does increase the odds that they will become a life long reader and learner.
Many canoeists returning from the BWCA Wilderness are complaining about muddy portages this year. We’ve received more than 5” of rain so far in June here at Sawbill. It’s been a little damp for sure, but it’s nice to have a season when wild fire isn’t constantly on our minds.
It’s also encouraging to hear of many moose sightings in the wilderness. Five moose seems to be the average for most groups last week. Most have been cows with calves, which is normal at this time of year, but raises some hope that the decline in the moose population is possibly slowing down. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, as the West End without moose would be a sad future indeed.